Raleigh, N.C. (Feb. 9, 2011) – In an ongoing effort to raise standards in the debt relief industry and improve consumer protections, a diverse group of leading debt relief companies have formed a new organization devoted to consumer advocacy. The organization is spearheaded by Steve Rhode, a consumer advocate and founder of the website GetOutofDebt.org. Membership is by invitation only to companies who promote transparency and have a demonstrated track record in properly helping consumers address financial hardships.
The American Association of Credit Counselors (AACC) will include nonprofit credit counseling agencies, debt management companies, debt settlement companies and other providers who are focused on serving consumers in financial distress. The AACC name reflects the revival of an organization that existed with a similar mission but has been defunct for more than 20 years.
This is the first debt relief association formed solely to find collaborative ways to work for the betterment of consumers rather than to lobby on behalf of the industry.
“We’re not an official association, we’re not a traditional industry group that anyone can join as long as they are willing to pay the membership dues,” said Rhode, one of the most vocal and active advocates for consumer interests. “We’re really a club, a club that only accepts the best companies who’ve demonstrated a commitment to the highest standards in serving consumers and who want to work collaboratively to protect consumers facing money troubles.”
All member companies in the AACC have agreed to a set of common standards, including:
- Charging no upfront fees for debt settlement services;
- Providing customers with good faith estimates before they enroll in any debt relief service;
- Outlining the potential risks of a debt settlement or debt management program in easy‐to understand language;
- Providing openness and transparency regarding performance results; and
- Making top management readily available to their customers.
The group has adopted the motto “Putting Consumers First.”
“We are thrilled to be a part of this group, which is really focused on creating educated consumers and campaigning for their rights and protection,” said Chris Schornak, president of Debt Solutions Network, one of the founding members. “There are a wide range of debt relief options out there, but not every option will work for every individual. It’s exciting to see a group of companies standing up and saying that education is more important than deception and that the needs of the consumer are more important than a company’s bottom line.”
The genesis of the organization came out of an event Rhode hosted in late November called “A Group Conversation about Restoring Truth to Debt Relief.” The day‐long meeting brought together heads of debt relief companies, consumer advocates and regulatory agencies to discuss ways to improve consumer protections while still making debt relief services available to those in need and explore ways to increase the credibility of legitimate debt relief providers.
“That meeting created some great conversations among various debt relief providers about ways to better the industry as a whole and to make services from credible providers more readily available to consumers,” said Rhode. “Those discussions have continued over the last few months as these companies, while competitors, have found they have common interests and a shared vision for improving the industry. They felt there would be strength in numbers and have decided to work together for change.”
Charter members of the organization are:
- Active Debt Solutions, a Florida‐based company that offers credit counseling, debt consolidations, bankruptcy referrals, and debt settlement programs;
- Cambridge Credit Counseling, a Massachusetts‐based nonprofit that offers financial education and debt management services;
- CareOne Services Inc., a Maryland‐based company that offers credit counseling, debt management and debt settlement programs and bankruptcy referral services;
- CESI Debt Solutions, a North Carolina‐based nonprofit credit counseling agency that provides debt management plans;
- Consumer Recovery Network, an Idaho‐based company which provides DIY instruction and offers debt settlement services;
- Debt Solutions Network LLC, a Michigan‐based company that offers debt settlement and debt consolidation services;
- New Era Debt Solutions, a California‐based company that offers debt settlement services; and
- Oak View Law Group, a California‐based law practice that offers debt management and settlement programs as well as bankruptcy services.
“We take great pride in being part of a group that puts consumers first,” said Alex Viecco, vice president of New Era Debt Solutions. “This is something that has been lacking in this industry for a very long time.”
The original AACC was created in 1955 and disbanded in the 1980s.
About the American Association of Credit Counselors
The American Association of Credit Counselors was founded with the mission of “Putting Consumers First” in debt relief services. Membership in the organization is by invitation only and all of the members have agreed to meet specific standards and principles in offering their services. The AACC has eight members. For more information, visit http://newaacc.org/.